ATHENS, Ga. — Make no mistake about it, Julian Rochester has a personal strategy set up for this season: He’s in it for the long haul.
As a freshman last year, Rochester, a highly-touted defensive lineman, had an impact. He played in all 13 games, and his 36 tackles were second-most among Georgia’s defensive linemen.
But Rochester saw a need to reach further and push harder in 2017.
“This year I came in knowing that I had to step up more. Since I was given that spot, I had to take it up a notch,” Rochester said. “I had to be more consistent, play with more stamina. I had to do the things that a freshman wouldn’t have done last year.”
In certain cases, Rochester didn’t play like a freshman, because as he puts it he had to play “older.” In order to compete for a spot on the defensive line, he had to increase his mental toughness.
And while many wouldn’t think that Rochester had too much to worry about as a freshman, standing over 6-foot-5 and weighing more than 300 pounds, his physicality was something he was working on.
“My body was so big,” Rochester said. “I had to learn to be balanced.”
This also meant balancing his time and energy on the field. Learning the playbook was never a difficulty for Rochester, but sustaining his presence on the defensive line presented more of a challenge.
“The plays were never hard, it was just trying to maintain on the field as long as I possibly can,” Rochester said. “It’s trying to stretch myself to play as long and as many plays as I can, no matter how long that I’m out there.”
In his freshman year, lack of longevity on the field was a nagging nuisance for Rochester. It’s an adjustment for all defensive linemen coming out of high school, having the conditioning to stay on the field, rather than constantly being subbed out.
This isn’t just a problem for Rochester, as Kirby Smart points out, it plagues the entire defensive line.
“I don’t ever think we are conditioned enough at defensive line,” Smart said. “I’ll believe that when a guy can go out there and play like a DB and play seven consecutive plays and strain his gut and be as effective on the seventh as he was on the first.”
Smart was adamant at the defensive line is nowhere near where he wants them to be conditioning wise.
“I’m not happy with any of the defensive line’s conditioning right now,” Smart said. “I think all those guys can improve their conditioning. The world we live in, with the fast-ball and the way we practice it and work on it, those guys who are 300 pounds, they can’t play sometimes more than five, six or seven plays. I’m not happy with them at all on that.”
Smart says the defensive line as a whole must do a better job of “pushing through and competing,” and the solution to the struggles begins and ends with conditioning.
“Condition them. We’ve got to do more of it,” Smart said. “They don’t play on special teams. They don’t get the high volume of running and reps. … So we have to condition those guys and we do.”
And this is a philosophy on endurance that Rochester is buying into in the preseason of his second year at Georgia.
“If I can go as long as I can,” Rochester said, “I can go as hard as I can.”